Author Topic: Urban Fantasy readers' favorite things?  (Read 1588 times)  

Online Paranormal Kitty

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Urban Fantasy readers' favorite things?
« on: February 13, 2018, 09:43:35 AM »
What are urban fantasy readers' favorite elements in a story? Looking for your opinions as readers, feedback and reviews you've received as a writer, or links to research/articles.

A specific question I have is how important are the magical systems and rules to most readers? Are they a big part of the experience for most readers to where the lack of it would be a DNR/DNF, or could most readers still get into a story that tends more toward the surreal side where the paranormal just exists without a lot of rules, systems, courts, covens, origin stories, etc.?

Offline KelliWolfe

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Re: Urban Fantasy readers' favorite things?
« Reply #1 on: February 13, 2018, 10:04:28 AM »
I personally as a reader expect concrete world building with a solid foundation for the magic system being used. I'm willing to give this a bit of a pass in PNR, but for UF I really want more. Honestly, I'm hoping for more epic urban fantasy to show up that takes it even further. Ilona Andrew's Kate Daniels meets LOTR. I'd read that all day every day.

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Online Becca Mills

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Re: Urban Fantasy readers' favorite things?
« Reply #2 on: February 13, 2018, 10:08:58 AM »
Ilona Andrew's Kate Daniels meets LOTR. I'd read that all day every day.

Man, me too!  :)

That said, I read an awful lot of UF where no original magical system appears to have been developed, and the books seem to be doing fine nonetheless.

Online Paranormal Kitty

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Re: Urban Fantasy readers' favorite things?
« Reply #3 on: February 13, 2018, 10:16:38 AM »
I personally as a reader expect concrete world building with a solid foundation for the magic system being used. I'm willing to give this a bit of a pass in PNR, but for UF I really want more. Honestly, I'm hoping for more epic urban fantasy to show up that takes it even further. Ilona Andrew's Kate Daniels meets LOTR. I'd read that all day every day.

I'm talking about more of a surreal/magical realism approach to the magic and paranormal, not exactly a lack of world-building but rather a different approach...if that makes sense.

Online Becca Mills

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Re: Urban Fantasy readers' favorite things?
« Reply #4 on: February 13, 2018, 10:31:43 AM »
I'm talking about more of a surreal/magical realism approach to the magic and paranormal, not exactly a lack of world-building but rather a different approach...if that makes sense.

Based on what I see selling, I don't think the magical system needs a lot of going into. I think it's fine for magic to "just happen" without the characters bothering to go into the why/how, just like gravity and magnetism can just happen in a novel without characters bothering to go into the why/how. But magical realism is a literary fiction subgenre. I wouldn't try to meld it with UF. The differences are too fundamental.

Offline VirginiaMcClain

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Re: Urban Fantasy readers' favorite things?
« Reply #5 on: February 13, 2018, 10:40:17 AM »
So, since you asked for our opinions as readers, I will say this: I read a lot of urban fantasy that I enjoy, and have read very little magic realism that I enjoy (I've read lots of magic realism though, because of some literature courses I took back in university, and because I'm generally willing to give it a try, but it never winds up being my thing). So, using myself as an incredibly tiny sample size, I would say you may not find much crossover in your audience.

I think it's one thing if you don't explicitly state how things work (they just do and your characters take them for granted) because that can be very appropriate for the story. If no one's encountering things for the first time then why would anyone explain anything? I hate the explicit info dumps about "how" a magic system works when it's clearly just there to tell the reader and not because the characters actually need it explained. I much prefer figuring out how things work from context alone. However, many UF set ups involve recent changes to the world structure, or a secret world that not everyone knows about, and thus we get the (hopefully well placed) explanations of how it all works.

I'm curious, what makes you think your story would be Urban Fantasy rather than just magic realism? After all, magic realism is generally contemporary, can easily take place in an urban center, so if there's just a bit of reality stretching in an urban environment... that's just magic realism. What would push your story towards Urban Fantasy?
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Offline Mercedes Vox

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Re: Urban Fantasy readers' favorite things?
« Reply #6 on: February 13, 2018, 10:44:30 AM »
I want the location to be so integral to the story that it's practically a character, to the point where the book wouldn't work if the story took place elsewhere. I think that's partly why Charlaine Harris's Southern Vampire Mysteries were so successful.
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Online Paranormal Kitty

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Re: Urban Fantasy readers' favorite things?
« Reply #7 on: February 13, 2018, 11:03:52 AM »
I'm curious, what makes you think your story would be Urban Fantasy rather than just magic realism? After all, magic realism is generally contemporary, can easily take place in an urban center, so if there's just a bit of reality stretching in an urban environment... that's just magic realism. What would push your story towards Urban Fantasy?

It's definitely not magical realism in the genre sense...just that the use of magic elements is similar at times. I think it is probably urban fantasy, but I'm not sure the majority of urban fantasy readers will like it because it's different. A lot of UF tends to focus on the power structures, how the magic works, etc., but I don't really do that, and power structures, courts, covens and such don't even exist. There's also a heaping ton of humor, swearing and action/violence. I think a key point of difference might be that the characters don't really use magic to defeat the villain(s). They have to use guns, cars, technology, etc. There aren't any magic fights or anything.

I know you get two categories (I'm doing KDP select so only concerned with Amazon at the moment), and I've been trying to figure out which ones will provide the most receptive audience and the most visibility, but it's so difficult. I'm thinking definitely "dark fantasy" but I'm not sure if I should use my other cat on UF or maybe "paranormal suspense" or thriller or something?

I want the location to be so integral to the story that it's practically a character, to the point where the book wouldn't work if the story took place elsewhere. I think that's partly why Charlaine Harris's Southern Vampire Mysteries were so successful.

Oh, I agree. Setting is something I really focus on.
« Last Edit: February 13, 2018, 11:27:43 AM by Paranormal Kitty »

Offline VirginiaMcClain

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Re: Urban Fantasy readers' favorite things?
« Reply #8 on: February 13, 2018, 11:06:41 AM »
I want the location to be so integral to the story that it's practically a character, to the point where the book wouldn't work if the story took place elsewhere. I think that's partly why Charlaine Harris's Southern Vampire Mysteries were so successful.

Oooh! Yes! ^^^ This is good. I always enjoy that. I can never get it to work in my own series because my characters move around like crazy, but it's a great element. It's also a big part of why I enjoy the Karen Chance books so much, and Deborah Harkness' series as well.
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Offline Jessie G. Talbot

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Re: Urban Fantasy readers' favorite things?
« Reply #9 on: February 13, 2018, 11:16:52 AM »
I want the location to be so integral to the story that it's practically a character, to the point where the book wouldn't work if the story took place elsewhere. I think that's partly why Charlaine Harris's Southern Vampire Mysteries were so successful.

Somewhere in Louisiana? I'm afraid I remember her characters more than the setting. (Bad llama!)

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Offline Lorri Moulton

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Re: Urban Fantasy readers' favorite things?
« Reply #10 on: February 13, 2018, 12:02:42 PM »
Kitty, from what you've told us...I'm thinking dark fantasy and paranormal thriller.  You do have more of a Pulp Fiction vibe (right?) so maybe even crime thriller with vampires, etc. as keywords. 

You don't seem to be writing in a genre, so you might have to create your own. :)

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Online Paranormal Kitty

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Re: Urban Fantasy readers' favorite things?
« Reply #11 on: February 13, 2018, 12:42:42 PM »
Kitty, from what you've told us...I'm thinking dark fantasy and paranormal thriller.  You do have more of a Pulp Fiction vibe (right?) so maybe even crime thriller with vampires, etc. as keywords. 

You don't seem to be writing in a genre, so you might have to create your own. :)

It definitely does have that vibe, especially since I split the first book and I'm adding more scenes. It's a lot of over-the-top situations and dark humor. I think it is basically a thriller where everyone just happens to be paranormal. Are there any existing books like that?

Offline kathrynoh

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Re: Urban Fantasy readers' favorite things?
« Reply #12 on: February 13, 2018, 01:01:15 PM »
I don't want to read about magic systems or world building unless it is relevant to the plot. Outside of that, it bores me to tears. I read UF but have no interest in fantasy genres that go into all the nitty-gritty of that stuff.

Offline VirginiaMcClain

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Re: Urban Fantasy readers' favorite things?
« Reply #13 on: February 13, 2018, 01:07:34 PM »
It definitely does have that vibe, especially since I split the first book and I'm adding more scenes. It's a lot of over-the-top situations and dark humor. I think it is basically a thriller where everyone just happens to be paranormal. Are there any existing books like that?
Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency comes to mind... Also, all of the Discworld books by Terry Pratchett. Everything is set in a fantasy world filled with fantasy characters, most of which is never explained but simply taken as is (with a few exceptions) and then the characters are involved in all kinds of adventures covering a wide range of genres including murder mysteries.

There are probably other examples, though nothing pops to mind immediately. At any rate they seem to do well, and I certainly enjoy them.
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Offline Norman Steele Taylor

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Re: Urban Fantasy readers' favorite things?
« Reply #14 on: February 13, 2018, 07:04:30 PM »
Why not run an incentivized poll for Urban Fantasy fans?


Offline EllieDee

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Re: Urban Fantasy readers' favorite things?
« Reply #15 on: February 13, 2018, 08:18:20 PM »
If the story's in first or close third person, I have to like the main character.  It's okay if he/she's rough around the edges or occasionally exasperating, but I have to fundamentally think that they're a good person.  I have to be rooting for them.  It's the number two reason I put down an UF novel, because life is too short to read a story or multi-book series with a character that  p*ss es me off.  My pet peeve UF protagonists:

constant unfunny joking/sarcasm (very few authors can actually do humor well.  know your strengths)
'strong' female characters with exclusively 'masculine' interests and personality traits who only get along with male characters and loathe other women
goth-style characters whose life is a constant tragedy of soap operatic proportions
any main character who proves how insecure limited bad*ss they are by killing everybody around them in extended violence porn scenes.  Yawn.

Offline whistlelock

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Re: Urban Fantasy readers' favorite things?
« Reply #16 on: February 14, 2018, 05:01:38 AM »
So, I decided to write a UF series about 6 months ago.  I read through most of the top UF books featuring a dude.  (I already knew I wanted a male protag). 

What I found that all the top books shared was:
The characters all rebelled, even resented, authority.
Most of them had "jobs" like magical bookstore owner or detective.  The next most common: assassin/gun for hire.  Rarely did the job interfere with their lives unless it was a part of the central plot.
Usually no family mentioned or they were orphans.  The rare family that did show up was typically a father figure who was a part of the establishment the protag rebelled against.

Magic systems are explained but only in relation to the moment- like why he has to be standing on grass to do this thing or why X spell won't work on Y thing because of Z.   

Online Paranormal Kitty

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Re: Urban Fantasy readers' favorite things?
« Reply #17 on: February 14, 2018, 03:12:44 PM »
Why not run an incentivized poll for Urban Fantasy fans?

If only I had something to incentivize with...

Offline Kessie Carroll

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Re: Urban Fantasy readers' favorite things?
« Reply #18 on: February 14, 2018, 05:03:12 PM »
So, I decided to write a UF series about 6 months ago.  I read through most of the top UF books featuring a dude.  (I already knew I wanted a male protag). 

What I found that all the top books shared was:
The characters all rebelled, even resented, authority.
Most of them had "jobs" like magical bookstore owner or detective.  The next most common: assassin/gun for hire.  Rarely did the job interfere with their lives unless it was a part of the central plot.
Usually no family mentioned or they were orphans.  The rare family that did show up was typically a father figure who was a part of the establishment the protag rebelled against.

Magic systems are explained but only in relation to the moment- like why he has to be standing on grass to do this thing or why X spell won't work on Y thing because of Z.   

There needs to be a huge like button for this post.

I like UF to have a magic system that makes sense. I mean, this is why I read the fantasy genre at all. I want cool worldbuilding that immerses me in another world, whether it's the dark underbelly of Chicago or the Arizona desert. According to my research in the reviews on UF (waves to Chris Fox), I discovered the following:

The market is glutted with mega sellers

Subgenres of mystery and thriller seem less crowded (mind you, this was 6 months ago)

Common creatures: vampires, werewolves, demons, witches, psychics, ghosts

Somebody is out to destroy the city/world/all magic users

Unfortunate hero caught in the crossfire between factions, accused of murder, etc. They have secret powers that make everybody hate them but can save the world.

People in comments applaud new creatures and plots.

Killer settings are preferred: well rendered, well researched, and any ties to history or mythology are also a plus.

These were my personal notes when I was researching the market.
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Offline Pelenor

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Re: Urban Fantasy readers' favorite things?
« Reply #19 on: February 14, 2018, 05:52:52 PM »
Brandon Sanderson has a his laws of magic for fiction on his website and if you search for Magic System on youtube there are some great explanations and examples of the two types of magic used in fiction, soft magic (i.e. Game of thrones and LOTR) and hard magic (Harry Potter and Avatar the last airbender). The difference basically is one explains the rules to the audience while the other just has wizards and magic users as mysterious figures whose magic is never really explained and dont seem to have any limitations. Both can be used effectivelyy in fiction writing. One of the best magic systems that I had read was years ago in an urban fantasy novel where two mathematicians discovered how to use magic spells by specific algebraic equations. That was pretty original at that time, at least to me. Piers Anthony's Blue Adapt series had some cool magic systems as well, with the Blue adapt having to rhyme his spells or his magic would not work.

Online Paranormal Kitty

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Re: Urban Fantasy readers' favorite things?
« Reply #20 on: February 14, 2018, 06:50:04 PM »
The market is glutted with mega sellers.

That is something that worries me about the category. Can something that stands out in that category gain traction, or will people just skip over it? Especially if the cover doesn't look like all the other UF covers?